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Walsh aims to increase daily coronavirus testing of Boston residents by more than a third

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh.
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh.Blake Nissen for the Boston Globe

Mayor Martin J. Walsh is looking to increase daily COVID-19 testing of Boston residents by more than a third in coming weeks, his office announced Wednesday.

Walsh hopes to reach an average of at least 1,500 diagnostic tests per day for city residents during the next phase of testing expansion in Boston, with such a push targeting the most vulnerable neighborhoods. Currently, about 1,100 tests are being conducted per day on city residents, a figure that has increased from the previous week’s average of 680 per day, authorities said.

The city is looking to increase the number of community health centers that are offering testing, according to Walsh’s office. Officials aim to increase the testing capacity of such centers by 50 percent in the next month. additionally, city authorities have plans to partner with two hospitals to expand testing in coming weeks.

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More than 10,200 city residents are confirmed COVID-19 cases. That caseload included 449 deaths as of Tuesday.

“Testing helps people get the care they need and avoid passing the virus on to others,” said Walsh in a statement. “Increasing our testing efforts allows our public health experts to better track the outbreak and it will continue to be essential in our progress toward recovery."

He continued, "Public health models tell us that the more testing we can do, the more we can reduce our positive infection rate, giving us the data and confidence we need to move forward safely.”

Walsh, along with officials from the Boston Resiliency Fund, also announced Wednesday the distribution of $1 million in grants. The fund has raised more than $29 million to help with the local response to the public health crisis, and this round of funding is focused on the expansion of testing at community health centers, among other initiatives, authorities said. The city is currently offering testing in five hospitals and 18 health centers, and residents are encouraged to call ahead for pre-screening and to schedule an appointment.

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Authorities are also looking to expand mobile testing capacity in Boston, with the goal of averaging 150 residents a day and an operation that is active six days a week.

Boston continues to work to complete universal testing for homeless people in the city, according to Walsh’s office. Earlier this week, Walsh said there have been nearly 600 confirmed novel coronavirus cases among that population, including two deaths. Once universal testing is done for the homeless public health officials will start universal testing for other “high-impact populations and sites, including first responders,” according to Walsh’s office.

All told, about 28,000 Boston residents have been tested for COVID-19, which represents about 4 percent of the city’s population. The confirmed case rate has decreased from almost 34 percent to 32 percent during the last week, according to city authorities.

East Boston, which has the highest rate of positive coronavirus results of any city neighborhood, saw testing increase by 76 percent during the last week, officials said.

Meanwhile, a Massachusetts General Hospital study aims to gauge what percentage of people may have been exposed without developing symptoms, city authorities said in late April. The program calls for testing 1,000 asymptomatic residents for coronavirus antibodies in their blood. The tests focus on on East Boston, Roslindale, and parts of Dorchester. Researchers have said testing is a foundation upon which policymakers can determine when the state can safely fully reopen.

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Antibody testing, which is different from conventional tests for active cases of the virus, looks for the presence of antibodies, which are created by the immune system in response to the virus and can remain after recovery. That type of testing is not yet widely available, and some scientists have raised concerns about the reliability of antibody tests developed for the new virus.

Walsh’s office said Wednesday that data from the Mass. General study is expected to be available next week. Once that study is done, the city will look “to expand antibody testing to more Bostonians including targeted populations such as first responders,” according to Walsh’s office.

Previous Globe coverage was used in this report.




Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.